By Janet and Gary Smith
Business success requires a combination of factors that are more like a perfect storm than a perfect science; it is not just an easily assembled set of attributes and traits. Partnerships don’t always work, good ideas don’t always make it to market, and markets and customers don’t always perceive value where they should. And yet, entrepreneurship might be the most awesome contact sport there is. We believe entrepreneurship is necessary to all communities. It is critical for building wealth and independence in Black communities.
You have to wake up every morning and be excited—to control your destiny, to face the world knowing you expect to win. Not just play the game, but to win. Every Day! So what must you know about yourself? What are the tiebreakers that push the odds of winning in your favor?
Passionate execution outperforms a perfect idea. What is your goal, what are you trying to achieve? Until you can explain that to yourself, your family, your friends, potential employees, and customers, you don’t have anything. Not a perfectly crafted plan, but a clear sense of what it is you do, so someone can say, “Yes, I’ll work for you,” or more important, “Yes, I’ll buy that.”
Know which entrepreneur you are. Are you the subject matter expert, the person who understands the numbers and runs the business against an agreed to set of metrics, or a salesman’s salesman? Each type is different and will have different strengths and weaknesses— different blind spots that can harm you on this journey.
Determine your appetite for risk. Most people don’t even consider this until they are deep into their business and only come to grips with the answer when things start to go badly. Joe Louis explained this very succinctly, “Everyone has a plan, until they’ve been hit.”
Business is hard, and it requires resilience. Resilience is a trait that is often overlooked when assessing the most important skills to succeed. Smart, absolutely; hard-working, definitely; determined, yes that matters; but resilience—the ability to overcome adversity, to keep going when things don’t work, to assess the current situation and still move forward, and to stay the course—is crucial.
You must trust someone unconditionally. No one wins alone, no one did it or does it all by him or herself. So this is about sharing power, decision making, the work, and the wins. Is that person a clone of you, totally different from you, or the perfect counterbalance to who you are? My suggestion is that they are not a clone, but a complement to you, while also sharing your values.
So who are the Smiths? We are passionate entrepreneurs who blend strategic and tactical thinking. We have an unreasonably large appetite for risk. We have trusted each other for 30 years in business and for 36 years of marriage—not always agreeing, and not always seeing the world the same way, but always knowing that together we would get to the right place in the right way. We would figure it out. We have been resilient because we had to be. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always there to be had if we stayed true to the passionate pursuit of our vision—to eliminate systemic inequities.
We love what we do; we love our family and our God. If we ever got matching tattoos, they would say the most important life lesson that business has taught us is this: When our ego goes up, our money goes down!
Janet Crenshaw Smith and Gary A. Smith Sr.
Janet Crenshaw Smith and Gary A. Smith Sr. are the cofounders of Ivy Planning Group, a 30-year-old consulting and training firm. Ivy won the 2018 Profiles in Diversity Journal Innovations in Diversity Award. Profiles in Diversity Journal has also named Gary and Janet Diversity Pioneers and Diversity Leaders.